A friend is dying of cancer. My daughter left this morning for a year away, on a distant continent. My son has been continents away for months. It is a day to contemplate loss, and attachment.
When my children were little, I got criticized quite a bit for my form of attachment parenting. I nursed too long, I held them too close, I sheltered them too much. I was informed repeatedly and with great authority that my children would never separate from me, that they would never be independent. I kept emphatically telling people my belief: that if they got what they needed when they were young, they would be able to walk away when they were ready. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Even at the age of four, on my daughter’s first day of preschool, I remember waiting by the phone for the seemingly inevitable call that she couldn’t make it through the four hours without me. After all, she was so used to my being there for her. Surely I would need to come rescue her immediately. The call never came, of course. She was very happy to stretch her wings, and come home and embrace me again when she was done.
Two decades later my children are not only happily out on their own as young adults, they are two of the most independent people I know: physically, emotionally, and mentally. I believe that the strong attachment we shared in their early years was the seed for that independence. Of course it is a lot easier for them to walk away than for me to be left behind, but that’s the job of a parent, isn’t it?
I remember a night when my son was about four. I always sat with my children for a while at bedtime. We would read, or make up stories, talk about the day, say a bedtime prayer. On this night, I told my son I loved him, and instead of the usual “I love you too”, he snuggled in deeper under the covers and said with a sigh of contentment, “I know, Mom”. I was so moved by his confidence in being loved, by his ability to acknowledge and absorb it so completely. I wondered if I had ever felt like that. I didn’t think so.
But I do now. The gift of attachment parenting has returned itself to me so many times over. Yes, my children are far away, and I miss them. I miss their physical presence, their unique smells and sounds and messes. Oh, I know I’m still “Mom” because they call for help, and they call for money. And I’m so gratified that they always call me with questions about health. But when they first left home, I believed I’d lost my family, and I grieved. Having an empty nest hit me much harder than I expected, even though it was hardly an unplanned event. I felt like I’d been fired from the best job I ever had. I missed making them dinner, and cookies, and watching a movie with a gigantic bowl of home made popcorn. I missed being part of their daily lives.
But now I know differently: I haven’t lost my family at all. It has changed form, but it is strong and clear and ongoing. It was my children who taught me the feeling of being loved completely, as my imperfect and loving self, and distance can’t touch that. I am attached; I am connected to them, and they to me, heart to heart, wherever they go.
My friend is dying of cancer. She is far away, too. We have corresponded sporadically through her illness, spoken some, but now comes word that she is dying and she no longer wants calls or contact. My initial response is panic: did I say enough to let her know how important she is to me, how much I love her, how our friendship has nurtured me over the years? And what if I haven’t? What will I do? And then, I relax, feeling into my heart, and knowing that we, too, are connected, inextricably. Our bond is solid, and as it has not been broken by distance, it will not be broken now. I know she knows that I love her, and I rest, secure, in her love for me.
Perhaps it is difficult to attach when life is so fraught with loss, when our world can change shape so quickly and unexpectedly. I know no one who is living the life they planned, or imagined for themself. And yet, what endures, at the core of our being, is the attachments we make, and treasure, and nurture. I know no better fuel for life, no better sustenance, than love. And I thank my children for teaching me that lesson, even when I thought I was teaching it to them.